Emergency & Trauma

July 20, 2017

Emergency Medicine’s Wrenn leaves legacy of learning

Keith Wrenn, M.D., who for 25 years has been a leader in Vanderbilt’s Department of Emergency Medicine serving as its first and only residency director, is stepping down.

For 25 years Keith Wrenn, M.D., has served as residency director for Vanderbilt’s Department of Emergency Medicine. (photo by John Russell)

Keith Wrenn, M.D., who for 25 years has been a leader in Vanderbilt’s Department of Emergency Medicine serving as its first and only residency director, is stepping down.

Wrenn joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1992 in the department’s infancy. At that time, Vanderbilt’s Emergency Department saw 30,000 patients a year, compared to the more than 125,000 combined adult and pediatric patients seen annually today, and there were no Emergency Medicine residents. The following year, Wrenn began leading the newly established residency program, which started with six residents and 10 faculty members.

Over the next quarter-century, the residency program has become one of the highest rated in the country, training more than 200 residents and growing the faculty to more than 50 members.

“Keith Wrenn created an Emergency Medicine residency at Vanderbilt that set the highest standards for the practice of emergency medicine and has resulted in one of the best programs in the country,” said Corey Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine. “Because of his encyclopedic medical knowledge, unique teaching abilities and highest ethical principles, he became a national leader and role model. Keith embodies a practice of emergency medicine that is centered on patient dignity and welfare. The entire department will miss his leadership greatly.”

Wrenn now passes the torch to Nicole McCoin, M.D., who on July 1 assumed the role of vice chair of Education and Residency Program Director in Emergency Medicine.

“Our residency is extremely fortunate to have Dr. McCoin as our next residency director,” Slovis said. “She has been trained in the culture for which our residency is known, having been a Vanderbilt Emergency Medicine resident and chief resident prior to serving as our assistant and then associate residency director. Nicole McCoin is already a nationally known educator in emergency medicine and is uniquely positioned to continue our tradition of ever-increasing excellence.”

McCoin, who has been part of the Emergency Medicine faculty since 2006, is a 1999 graduate of Vanderbilt University, a 2003 graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and completed residency and chief residency at Vanderbilt in Emergency Medicine.

“Keith has been a tremendous mentor and a wonderful friend,” McCoin said. “He has touched the lives of literally thousands with his wisdom, kindness and compassion. His will be big shoes to fill. I hope to continue the tradition of educational excellence that he has established. Providing mentorship for these residents is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. I am so fortunate to have an opportunity to help so many others on their journey as physicians.”

Wrenn says he came to Vanderbilt to escape the weather of Rochester, New York, where he and Slovis were both working in Emergency Medicine at the time. The two doctors initially met in residency and reconnected at Grady Hospital in Atlanta after Wrenn spent time working with underserved populations in Arkansas and then as an internist in North Carolina. Slovis was recruited from Rochester to serve as chair of Vanderbilt’s brand new Emergency Medicine program, and soon after named Wrenn the residency program director, a post in which Wrenn asked to serve.

“When Dr. Slovis asked me what job I wanted, I said I wanted to be program director,” Wrenn said. “Since then, we’ve put out a lot of good residents. We have a lot of good teachers who are very committed to education. I’ve seen students exemplify great courage and overcome great challenges to become incredible doctors.”

Wrenn’s students have long lauded him for his exemplary mentorship, which has garnered him numerous awards throughout his tenure.

He received a Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching and two Shovel Awards, given annually by each graduating class from the School of Medicine to a faculty member who has had positive and meaningful influence on their lives and education. In 2001, Wrenn was selected as a recipient of the Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. In 2016, the American Academy of Emergency Medicine named Wrenn Residency Director of the Year for his leadership and contributions to teaching emergency physicians.

“Dr. Wrenn is well-known as an amazing educator and clinician, but he is also one of the most genuinely caring and humorous people I have ever met,” said Ryan Fritz, M.D., MBA, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine, who completed residency at Vanderbilt in 2016 and joined the faculty after spending a year as chief resident. “Those who trained under him are better doctors for it, and those who know him are better people for it.”

Wrenn has been an active member of the Vanderbilt Ethics Committee, serving as co-chair for five years. He has also served on the Pharmacy and Therapeutic Committee since 1994 and has been a member of the Graduate Medical Education Committee since 1993.

Wrenn has published 68 peer-reviewed articles and 33 commentaries, including the Ten Commandments of Emergency Medicine, which he co-authored with Slovis and has been used by residency programs to instill behavioral norms while practicing Emergency Medicine for more than 25 years.

Following this leadership transition, Wrenn will remain on the faculty as a professor of Emergency Medicine and will continue to teach both medical students and residents.

“Keith has been a great program director and true friend,” said Donald Brady, M.D., senior associate dean for Graduate Medical Education. “Since I returned to Vanderbilt 10 years ago, I always have been able to rely on Keith as a sounding board, residency advocate and trusted mentor. He has worked extraordinarily hard at ensuring his residents get the best training possible while simultaneously working to ensure exemplary care for the patients in the Emergency Department. From my vantage points, he has been one of the pillars of residency education at VUMC throughout his career. I will miss my friend.”